Last week our family interred my dear Mom’s ashes in a pastoral graveyard on the Mira River in Nova Scotia. Friends and family asked me to post what I said at the graveside, so as best I can recall, here’s the gist of it. (I’ll leave the personal remembrances to our family, and stick to the parts in which others may find peace when comfort is needed.)
We cannot help but contemplate our own mortality at a funeral. In part, that’s why we are here today. At Mom’s memorial service her grandsons read the Beatitudes, and verses from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians.
Now when he saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Matthew 5:1-12, NIV
Made Alive in Christ
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Ephesians 2:1-10, NIV
So, given the entire Bible to choose from, why did we read these two passages of Scripture?
First, in the Beatitudes Christ describes human attributes and attitudes that God values. But they are not like we would write them, are they? Jesus didn’t say blessed are the strong, blessed are the clever, blessed are the witty, blessed are the rich, blessed are the powerful, or blessed are the attractive.
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Think about that. It’s a promise, but it also reveals God’s plan for each of us. Specifically, we weren’t meant to remain here. Our brief lives on earth are a prelude to our eternal state.
We don’t make the rules, and God doesn’t owe us a complete explanation. But there are overwhelming reasons to believe. Truth is a person—Jesus Christ.
Jesus said in John 16:33 “In this world you will have trouble.” That’s all Jesus promised us on earth. Nowhere in Scripture can you find a promise that things are going to get better here on earth. God’s focus is on eternity, and this life is a testing place with serious consequences. Pain and suffering are inevitable, but misery is optional.
But why should we believe Jesus Christ? As C.S. Lewis wrote, you only have three options with Christ: he is a liar, a lunatic, or Lord. How we, as morally responsible human beings, resolve this trilemma determines our fate in eternity.
Jesus’ purpose was to prepare us for an eternal relationship, outside of time with our creator. A creator who loved us so much that he was willing to demonstrate that love by allowing himself to be tortured. That is his ultimate gift to us—the proof of his love. As Paul writes in Ephesians 2, we are saved into an eternal relationship with him by grace—we do not earn it.
Man’s political and corporate efforts—and indeed all of our best intentions and accomplishments—cannot change our earthly fate. We are all going to die from life here on earth. Far too many people don’t think that through. But the simple fact is that we did not evolve as the result of random, undirected chemical reactions. We were created for a purpose, and that purpose does not involve having as smooth a ride through this world as we can craft from our circumstances.
We can see in nature the revelation and awesome power of God. It is very easy to go online and search for deep space images from the Hubble telescope. If you ever wonder what God can (or cannot) do, look at those images—they’re amazing. And it’s only a small step to watch those planets and stars and galaxies for a short period of time and realize they are moving away from a common center. The Big Bang is a scientifically acknowledged event that occurred 13.7 billion years ago. Science confirms the creation event recorded in Genesis. And a creation demands a creator. If you take the time to study even a little bit, you’ll find incredible agreement between science and faith.
Secondly, Paul reminds us in Ephesians 2 that our focus should not be on this world. He also wrote in Romans 12 that we should not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of our minds. Paul’s message—the message that he died to deliver—was that Jesus Christ conquered death (1 Corinthians 15), and that he offers us salvation (eternal presence with our creator) as a gift. While most of us struggle to think beyond the immediacy of our daily world, God invites us in the coming ages to enjoy the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.
We cannot earn our way into heaven. We are saved by what Christ did for us, not what we do for Christ. Christianity is unique in this respect.
As Jesus concluded his statement at the end of John 16:33, “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, for I have overcome the world.” We were never meant for this world. God has a purpose and plan for each of us, and he proved it.
And by God’s grace we can have peace and joy beyond mortality.